|Wide receiver Greg Jennings (left) and left tackle Jake Long are both coming off injury-riddled campaigns.|
We hit the good side of the NFL's open market yesterday. Now it's time to explore the bad side. Every season, there are teams that break the bank to sign a free agent or trade for a player who ends up disappointing in a big way. Looking at the current market, which player would you be most leery of acquiring?
Somebody will overpay Long, who just isn't the same player anymoreJake Long will get paid a lot of money because he was a No. 1 overall draft pick who started out his career very strong. But that's paying for past production and a big name, not future success.
Long has the body of a player much older than 27 because of his injury problems, and he simply didn't perform like an above-average starter last year. The value won't be there.
Bowe has immense talent ... and a huge buyer-beware tagThe one free agent I'd be leery of signing is also one of the most talented available players: receiver Dwayne Bowe. With the Kansas City Chiefs, he's had solid numbers, including three 1,000-yard seasons in his first six NFL campaigns. There have been flashes of brilliance. And yet, there are questions. Dropped passes, a sometimes-lackadaisical attitude, the PED suspension and some clashes with coaches. Teams will have to ask themselves if they want to sign up for that long term.
Even with all the talent -- and it's considerable, especially in a year that is not overflowing with enticing free-agent options -- Bowe comes with a buyer-beware tag.
Jennings, Long and Landry will all be high-priced risksThe two big-name players who immediately come to mind are Greg Jennings and Jake Long. Jennings might be the best wideout available, but he'll be 30 in September and has a history of injuries. Meanwhile, Long is coming off a subpar season that ended with him hitting injured reserve for the second straight year. Both might pan out, but they represent a big risk, given the money they will command.
After those two, the next player who gives me pause -- at least when it comes to shelling out substantial dough -- is Pro Bowl safety LaRon Landry. He did a number of things well last year with the New York Jets, but he was on a one-year contract. I'm always leery of those players. They have something to prove on a one-year deal, but how will they handle the big money? Landry is best against the run. He will struggle in space as a cover guy -- unfortunately, this is something big-money safeties must do well. Also, he has missed time with injuries in the past and has not always been an active participant in offseason programs, which is something you want from big-money players.
As an aging running back, Bush's value is highly suspectYesterday in this space, I talked Dolphins. I'm going to do it again. While I felt Jake Long would be a great addition to any team, I don't believe in breaking the bank at one position on the offensive line. Left tackle is one link in a chain of five guys working together. Continuity is important, as is viability across the front. Having all of your money tied up in a left tackle with an awful right side of the line doesn't help much. In summation, for the right price, Long would be a nice pickup.
The guy who is more dicey than Long is another Miami Dolphin: Reggie Bush. Bush will turn 28 in March and will be entering his eighth pro season in 2013. How many solid years does he have left? Consider that a) most backs aren't nearly as productive past Year 8 (with some Curtis Martin-esque exceptions), b) teams have proven that the "running back-by-committee" approach can and does work (even the Baltimore Ravens were doing it with Bernard Pierce) and c) so much of being a big-time back demands desire. Some guys can lose it after signing a big deal (or holding out). Most people will tell you -- and you've probably already noticed it yourself -- that Chris Johnson has not been the same consistent force since signing his huge deal in 2011. Ditto DeAngelo Williams. Why spend a truckload of money on Bush when you know a talent like Doug Martin went toward the end of the first round of the draft last year? Alfred Morris went in the sixth! Bush can still play, but he wasn't that effective in 2012. That should give organizations at least some pause.
How much gas does Jennings have left in the tank?Receivers are typically the dodgiest acquisitions in free agency. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got a good one last year in Vincent Jackson, but over the course of NFL history, there have been a multitude of bad signings, including Alvin Harper, Andre Rison, Jerry Porter, Javon Walker and David Boston. (Or, as he's known in Southern California, David "freaking" Boston.)
This year provides plenty of receiver-bust candidates. Mike Wallace and potentially Wes Welker could be some of the biggest names, but Greg Jennings is the one who scares me the most.
I could see Wallace (or Welker, if he's let go) signing with a rival to play with a chip on his shoulder. However, after watching Jennings dominate in those Old Spice ads, I'm not convinced he hasn't already started to make plans for a life after football. Especially since he had a nice cameo on "Criminal Minds." So I expect a team like the Dolphins to make a bid on Jennings, probably overpay -- because that's what the Dolphins do -- and wind up disappointed.
Bradshaw's going to get paid too much in a lackluster RB classOn paper, Ahmad Bradshaw looks so desirable -- like when I'm looking at a Whitman's Sampler piece of dark chocolate. But then I bite into it, find out it's got coconut inside and spit it out. He's well on the right side of 30 and should have a good three (or even four) very productive years left. He's logged exactly two 200-plus carry seasons. Still plenty of tread on those tires. Ah, but here comes the coconut: He can't stay healthy. Or healthy enough to be a No. 1 RB you can feed 20-plus times a game. Look at this past season as an example. He carried the ball 57 total times in Weeks 5 and 6, guiding the New York Giants to a pair of dominant wins (with the latter coming at San Francisco). But that was really it for his mail-carrying ability. He averaged 14 rushes per game over the rest of the season, with just two touchdowns. And oh, by the way, he's coming off foot surgery.
Even with the injury, someone's going to overpay for him. When your main competition there is Shonn Greene and Reggie Bush, you're going to be the top guy. Someone's going to see him as the answer to their rushing woes and entrust their ground game to him. But I've never seen a running back go through a mid-career injury breakdown and return to form -- never mind that he's never shown true No. 1 ability.
Alex Smith could turn around a struggling offense, but only on one conditionAlex Smith seems like a great guy. He's also a really good football player. Before he became the 21st century's version of Wally Pipp, Smith had the San Francisco 49ers going on a season-and-a-half tear through the NFC. And who knows? If it weren't for Kyle Williams' fumbleitis last postseason and Smith's concussion in November, we might be referring to Smith as the QB of the two-time defending Super Bowl champs. As it is, he's an athlete gifted enough to warrant the Niners using the first overall pick of the 2005 NFL Draft on him over a local kid named Aaron Rodgers.
The question, then, is this: Why did it take so long for Alex Smith to flourish? From Roethlisberger to Ryan to Flacco to Newton to the 2012 batch of newbies, rookie quarterbacks have been hitting the ground running -- and throwing -- with greater success than they have in any preceding era. The answer is simple: The Niners' offensive line became dominant, thanks to the collective emergence of high-pedigree young studs named Staley, Iupati, Boone and Davis. It's no coincidence both Smith and Colin Kaepernick looked terrific working behind that group; protection is the single greatest determiner of success for an NFL QB. (Yep, more than the quality of receivers or offensive coordinator or head coach.)
Next question: Can your team's O-line protect Alex Smith? If the answer is yes, then he can turn around your struggling offense. If the answer is "I'm not sure" -- looking at you, Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets -- then I don't think Smith is worth the savior-level price tag he'll fetch.